In the latest installment of Eating My Words, bluestocking columnist Rebecca Peters-Golden takes on the latest beloved-slash-controversial book series-slash-movie blockbuster: The Hunger Games. Plan your viewing parties now.
I always delight in reading novels that totally love their food—feasting, snacking, cooking, smelling; I love it all. There is, however, something almost shiveringly good about a delicious description of food in a book where food is scarce. This is the case in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (hi, the title kind of says it all).
When kickass Katniss Everdeen isn’t trying to find enough food to survive or interacting with Greasy Sae, the old woman in District 12 who famously says, “Once it’s in the soup, I’ll call it beef,” she’s, you know, killing other teenagers to provide a vicious propaganda of bread and circus for the overprivileged and overfed citizens of the Capitol. In short, for Katniss, food has always been a necessity and very rarely a pleasure.
It’s for this reason, I think, that Katniss’ fondness for lamb stew stands out. On the train that will take her to the Capitol, Katniss views each meal as a chance to build up her strength, to perhaps help her stay alive a little longer in the Game. Although she tastes many of the Capitol’s delicacies, it is a homely stew that she likes the best, “made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums” and served on a bed of wild rice. Although she shovels it into her mouth without thinking on the train, when she is interviewed in the Capitol, it’s very much on her mind:
“So, Katniss, the Capitol must be quite a change from District Twelve. What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?” asks Caesar. . . .
I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. Be honest, I think. Be honest.
“The lamb stew,” I get out.
Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in.
“The one with the dried plums?” asks Caesar. I nod. “Oh, I eat it by the bucketful.”
And, never has hunger so been nature’s salt than in a scene during the Games, when (*spoiler*) Katniss and Peeta are rewarded for their first kiss with the only real meal they’ve had since the Games begun. “There’s a feast—fresh rolls, goat cheese, apples, and best of all, a tureen of that incredible lamb stew on wild rice.” As a reader, it’s like you’ve been hungry for delicious food descriptions as Katniss has been deprived of food, and this stew definitely hits the spot . . . even if you aren’t fighting for your life at the hands of a corrupt government.
Katniss’ Capitol Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
Total time: 2 hours
Makes 6-8 servings
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 beef bouillon cubes (although any bouillon will do) or homemade stock, if it’s concentrated
- 2 pounds lamb, cut into 2-inch chunks (called stew meat at the butcher)
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced
- 1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 cup dried plums (prunes), about 30, if you’re buying in bulk—whole or halved
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- some delicious carbohydrate to pour it on or sop it up (crusty white bread,wild rice, etc.)
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Make the concentrated broth by adding the bouillon cubes to 2 cups water and microwaving for about 2 minutes.
Brown the lamb in the oil on both sides (about 3 minutes per side). You’ll likely need to cook the lamb in two batches, so it has room to brown. Remember, the meat will cook in the stew, so it needn’t cook through here. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the lamb from the pot and put aside.
Lower the heat to medium and add more oil if necessary. Add the onions and cook until soft, stirring so they don’t stick; they’ll take on the brown color from the meat, but shouldn’t caramelize (about 8 minutes). When the onions are soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute, but don’t let the garlic burn. Add the lamb and any juices that have run out back into the pot and stir.
Add wine and broth/stock to the pot and lower the heat to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cumin. While the stew is cooking, if you find it getting too thick, add up to another 1/2 cup of water or wine. Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly.
Add dried plums and thyme, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring regularly. Serve over rice or with bread.